By Rep. Pat Gardner
Opponents of the Affordable Care Act have stepped up their misinformation campaign about the law now that the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld it. There are all sorts of false numbers and dire predictions about what the act will cost and what it will and won’t do that are circulating on the Internet, being posted on Facebook, political blogs and making their way into print.
Now we see that Gov. Nathan Deal’s office is backing away from the prediction that expanding the state’s Medicaid program to cover more Georgians without insurance would bankrupt the state.
Indeed, the opposite is true. Georgia stands to benefit from a grand bargain under the new health care law. The federal government will pay 100 percent of the cost of the Medicaid expansion for the first three years, and no less than 90 percent after that.
Thus, at a minimal cost to Georgia, 650,000 people will no longer rely on hospital emergency rooms to get their care for free. Thanks to the new law, a similar number of the state’s uninsured residents will be able to purchase affordable coverage for the first time through private carriers selling plans on a statewide insurance exchange – two goals our state has tried by other methods, and failed to achieve for decades.
Both of these major changes in providing access to care are to be implemented in 2014, less than 18 months from now. There are no alternatives on the table, in Atlanta or Washington, to get that many Georgians affordable health insurance that fast or that effectively.
It’s heartening that governor’s spokesman acknowledged to PolitiFact Georgia recently that his analysis of the cost of Medicaid expansion was wrong and won’t impact the state budget as much as he originally claimed. Still, he and his boss have suggested it may not be worth it.
Even with the faulty budget analysis aside, the governor’s estimate for how much it will cost the state seems inflated when compared to other projections. The Urban Institute, using current spending figures, believes that the state portion of Medicaid costs will go up a total of about $715 million over six years beginning in 2014 over what it would have paid without the expansion. That’s about $120 million a year, against a state budget this year of $19.3 billion.
Gov. Deal’s office has projected additional state spending of $4.5 billion over 10 years, although we still don’t know what calculations went into that figure. Even if it is accurate, that would still amount to less than a 2 percent increase in the state’s overall spending in any given year.
With the expansion, an estimated $35 billion in federal funds will flow to the state for 10 years starting in 2014. Turning away that amount of money to benefit Georgians – funds that will go to other states that will happily use it to expand their programs – seems a fool’s game. While we play that game, our people will remain uninsured and New York, Pennsylvania and other states will get to use our taxes to help control their health care costs.
Georgia has spent the last two decades trying to come up with private, market-based plans to make insurance affordable. Many of these ideas are being recycled again as an alternative to implementing the law. Those efforts have demonstrably failed as the ranks of the uninsured have swelled and total 1.8 to 2 million Georgia residents.
Moreover, expanding Medicaid is also the best option right now for those of us who are lucky enough to have insurance.
For years we have been paying higher premiums and co-pays because hospitals, doctors and others have to offset the cost of caring for the uninsured. By some estimates shifting the cost of care for the uninsured to those with insurance inflates premiums $1,000 a year for the average American family. Why wouldn’t we want to get rid of this unofficial and uncontrollable premium surcharge as soon as we can?
And then there’s this: Expanding Medicaid is simply the right thing to do. The people impacted by the expansion are not freeloaders. They are the working poor – Georgians with an annual income up to $15,400 for an individual or $26,300 for a family of three, or 138 percent of the federal poverty level. Think about paying the rent, buying food and clothing and other necessities on this amount of income. Is it any wonder why so many of them risk going without insurance?
With the election just a few months away, it’s easy to be frightened by inflated numbers and dire predictions about what the new law will do. But resorting to scare tactics and misleading analysis is not leadership.
Georgia needs to reduce the ranks of the uninsured and stop cost-shifting their care to the insured. Doing so will lead to better health for our most vulnerable residents, a more stable state economy and a better chance at controlling costs for all of us. Expanding Medicaid and implementing the rest of the Affordable Care Act gets us there quickly and cost-effectively. We should not miss this opportunity.
Rep. Pat Gardner (D-Atlanta) recently completed her 11th session as a state representative in 2012. She presently serves on the House Appropriations, Transportation, Higher Education and Natural Resources & Environment committees and the Appropriations Committee’s Health Subcommittee. She is the treasurer of the Working Families Caucus , chair of the Health and Welfare Subcommittee of the Fulton County delegation, and immediate past chair of the Women’s Legislative Caucus.